Ghosts of American Malls Prominent In Maryland

Dead malls dot the region.

The inside of a long-dead mall, as photographed by Seph Lawless for his new book "Black Friday."
The inside of a long-dead mall, as photographed by Seph Lawless for his new book "Black Friday."
They’re a blight on America’s suburban landscape: hulking dead shopping malls, many with boarded windows, sagging rooftops and parking lots full of weeds.

The American shopping mall saw its Golden Age from 1956 to 2005, when 1,500 malls were built across the country. But no new enclosed mega-mall has been built since 2006.

And while about 1,200 malls are still standing, many have been abandoned and sit on the outskirts of American cities like strange coffins of commerce. In a new book called Black Friday, the photographer Seph Lawless captures the demise of many of these dead malls in images charged with a kind of haunting beauty.

They include Capital Plaza Mall in Landover, Chatham Mall in Ellicott City, Carrolltowne Mall / Center in Eldersburg, Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie, Laurel Mall in Laurel, Owings Mills Mall in Baltimore, and Rockville Mall in Rockville.

  • Did you shop at any of these malls? Miss them or glad to see them go? Tell us in comments below.
"It’s almost a sense of sadness because you don’t just miss the malls but everything that’s connected to it,” he said. “That was America. It was a more vibrant time for us.”

The website DeadMalls.com maintains a state-by-state list of America’s forlorn shopping meccas. Patch areas like Massachusetts, New Jersey, Georgia, Maryland and California are littered with abandoned malls. In Illinois alone there are twenty-seven.

Experts say a mall is significantly less likely to survive after its anchor store closes. Many American malls were affected by the closing of Sears, which shuttered its flagship earlier this year, and JC Penney, which announced in January that it would close 33 stores nationwide.

Howard Davidowitz, of the national retail consultant and investment banking firm Davidowitz & Associates, predicted half of U.S. malls would close within the next decade.

Some malls though are thriving, like outlet malls. Developers have capitalized on a still-struggling economy and opened 11 new outlet centers in 2013, more than quadruple the number that opened in 2009.

High-end malls, like those with anchor stores such as Nordstrom or Saks Fifth Avenue, are also flourishing, said Ryan McCullough, a real estate economist at CoStar, a commercial real estate research firm. Per square foot, those luxury malls saw a 14.6 percent growth in sales from 2009 to 2013, according to CoStar.

Michael Dart, co-author of the book “The New Rules of Retail,” said traditional shopping malls are failing where these high-end malls are succeeding: providing consumers with something they can’t get on the Internet.
Guests can enjoy upscale food courts, fancy interiors and live entertainment. Novelty and exclusivity, he said, lure consumers away from their computers and into these malls.

“The consumer has become satiated enough with the same type of stuff, so it’s become increasingly important to become experiential,” Dart said. In malls where stores have closed shop, vacant space has been converted into religious, medical or school facilities.

For malls that have faced store closures, this is a positive, creative reuse of that space, McCullough said.
Peggy Anne May 13, 2014 at 09:54 AM
The old malls were the best. PG Plaza will always be my favorite. Modern malls are cold and sterile with overpriced junk.
Chuck Burton May 13, 2014 at 10:25 AM
Owings Mills Mall still has Macys and Penny, but is largely empty anyway. It is in an out-of-the-way location that would be better suited to apartments and offices with a few restaurants and convenience type stores, similar to the neighboring Metro Centre.
Kevin J. Kohler May 13, 2014 at 11:15 AM
Marley Station in Glen Burnie is getting really close. Very little in business beyond the anchor stores and movie theater.
You May 15, 2014 at 07:36 AM
@Kevin... Marley Station is a really cool throwback to the 80's mall. I like going there from time to time because it feels nostalgic. If teens and twenties people want to really see first hand what malls were like in the 1980's... Marley Station is worth a visit. Even the movie theater is still exactly like mall theaters were in the 1980's.
Dean Smith May 15, 2014 at 10:02 AM
I believe there were just too many malls built in the Baltimore area and also, there were malls which were wrongly targeted for a certain demographics (ex. Owings Mills Mall which was intended for upscale clientele in a mostly middle income area). As for crime, I think high crime will occur just as often in a main street style shopping center as in a mall. However, for some people, internet shopping is much safer than going to a shopper center. Finally, like anything else that has been around for a while, malls are currently not in style as much as main street shopping. However, I believe that malls still have their place (especially in cold climates) so shoppers can be protected from the elements.


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